“Black people and architecture don’t mix”, so said African American architecture theorist, Darrell Wayne Fields in his (2000) ‘Architecture in Black’. He continued, “This is not to say that blacks can’t do architecture […] but when they do, they are practising the Whiteness of architecture as condoned by White history.”
Fields was referring to not merely the absence of black faces in the architectural profession, but also the way that architecture has been defined by European philosophers like Hegel to “negate monumental artistic work produced by a black subject”.
At the time, there were few internationally known black architects to counter this argument. But a few years after Fields wrote those words, Tanzanian-born David Adjaye emerged to international attention with a string of projects that not only prove that architecture and black people do indeed mix – but that there are themes that such architects need to express that are different to their White counterparts.
One such matter addressed by Adjaye has been the question of memorials, cultural expression, and memory syncretic doubling – engaging with European and global cultural terrains, as well as connecting with the African diaspora.
Adjaye has explored these themes through commissions deeply embedded in the cultural politics of the era in which his career has developed. The Design Museum’s ‘David Adjaye: Making Memory’ continues until August 2019 and presents a comprehensive overview of the architect’s works, addressing the trajectory of his career and how it has tackled questions of commemoration, monumentality and repositioning of historical memory.
Image: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Credit: Alan Karchmer, Courtesy The Design Museum.